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Andrea Wollstadt, holding her daughter, Estella Duquette, looked over the ballots in Biddeford.
Andrea Wollstadt, holding her daughter, Estella Duquette, looked over the ballots in Biddeford. (Gregory Rec/ Portland Press Herald)

Maine voters turn back bid to rescind state's gay-rights law

AUGUSTA, Maine -- Voters in Maine rejected an effort to repeal the state's gay-rights law, making Maine the last New England state to legally protect homosexuals from discrimination.

With more than half the precincts reporting, nearly 57 percent of voters were opposing repeal of the new law, which is broadly worded to protect transsexuals and transvestites as well as gays and lesbians.

''This is such a much-needed victory for our national community, because we've experienced so many losses," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. ''We've got to press forward on nondiscrimination protection, and not let marriage continue to swamp the movement."

The issue, put before voters for the third time since 1998, pitted a coalition of mainstream religious and business groups and politicians, including Governor John Baldacci, against a network of Christian church groups that sees gay rights as an assault on traditional marriage.

The vote was a referendum on the law, enacted earlier this year, to amend the Maine Human Rights Act by making discrimination illegal in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and education based on sexual orientation.

The Maine law had prohibited discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, ancestry, and national origin. The gay-rights provision was broadly worded to protect transsexuals, transvestites, and those who have undergone sexual reassignment surgery, in addition to gays.

The law exempts religious organizations that do not receive public funds. It also is worded to say it is not meant to address a right to marry. The law had been put on hold pending the outcome of the balloting.

A similar gay rights law, which was passed by the Legislature with a referendum provision, was rejected by voters in 2000. Two years previous, an earlier version of the law was rejected at the polls in a special election that was called under Maine's people's veto process.

A proposal in 1995 that sought to preemptively ban municipal gay rights laws was rejected by voters in a statewide referendum.

Leading up to this fall's vote, both sides reached out to their well-established bases to reinforce their messages, while keeping advertising for the electorate at large low-key.

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